Friday, February 24, 2012

New collages and flash fiction on BOMBlog!

BOMBlog has posted two of my collages and short stories in their weekly feature, Word Choice. One of the collages, I think, could be considered weed art!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

History of the Book.3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

For various reasons, that “summer trip to the West Coast” has now lasted seven years. I’m surprised those books I made years ago have survived like they have, considering how much I did not know what I was doing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was salvaging from more solidly assembled structures. But still.

Which leads me back to that space between the second and third dimensions, and the challenge of addressing it in a venue as seemingly flat as, say, a blog. Because this is where I’ve been channeling that energy—once reserved for dissembling and mashing up longer-form, structural narratives—into compressed one- and two-shot collages.* There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. My attention span has waned, what with the Internet and all that. I try to fight it in some arenas, but since the blog is a medium suited to quick little glimpses, I figure this is one battle not to pick. Also, I finished writing a novel last year, and since then, most things I do—whether writing (flash fiction) or art (collage as blog posts)—want to be microcosmic.

2. Binding kind of stresses me out. I love the results: a sturdiness that allows for shifts as you turn the page. But there’s a commitment there that’s scary. Besides, I’ve never really gotten the math down.

So there is a kind of liberation in the blogged collages, in that they are both low commitment and ephemeral. I can knock one out in an evening if I want, and I don’t have to worry about it lasting. Once I’ve placed it in the scanner, and made sure any wayward details are straightened, I can shove it in a milk crate and forget about it. If for some reason in the future, I try and dig it back out to hang on a wall, and it crumbles in my hands, I’m okay with that: I’ve prepared myself. Anything that survives is—if not a miracle—a bonus.

Because all that matters here is the scan, those few crucial seconds after the lid closes when the light cranks by. And here’s where it’s hard not to think of the scanner as a book. Its design seems modeled after the codex, doesn’t it? And it “reads” the things you put inside it, a fleeting act that ends up feeling kind of like a fossil record. A mummification in the ether. An anti-binding, maybe? Or at least a binding that takes place in some unnamed dimension.

There is a whole genre of scanner art, I’ve discovered, called scanography (scannography) or scanner photography—where images use the technology of the scanner in their composition. Just as zine aesthetics (and Xerox art) came about through the advent of the photocopier, the accessibility of the scanner has created an aesthetic of its own.

One thing I’ve thought about is how zine aesthetics changed a lot when photocopiers digitized and Kinko’s became harder to scam. As zine makers have focused more on using pre-Xerox printing techniques, such as silkscreen and letterpress, there seems to be less of an emphasis on the textural nature of collage. This makes me wonder about the future of the scanner: what might be marketed to take its place? That’s why it’s good, I guess, that I’m trying to become less reliant on—and take take less comfort in—technologies that are ultimately temporary.

The book, though, is not one of those technologies—despite the hand wringing that’s happening with the spread of ebooks. The physical book is becoming increasingly fetishized as it threatens to disappear, and with it, I think, the sense of touch. Although all our coveted devices are sold to us by boasting features such as touchpads and touchscreens, once we step away for a second, we see how flat these things really are. And what about CGI? These “3D” creations would deflate with a fart if you tried to grasp them. A simple line drawing is more dimensional than CGI's special effect placebos. So, yeah, there's my side-rant, and I guess my point is this: there is a longing, I think, beneath all this prognosed dematerialization, for something you can hold in your hands. And that longing is here to stay.

So the neglect I’ve been giving bookmaking lately is temporary. I'll return to it, I promise myself, after I tire of the fun I'm having completing things that can remain incomplete. In the meantime, I like the challenge of trying to bring tactility—or at least the illusion of it—to the often textureless realm of the Internet. I also like the freedom of being able to incorporate three-dimensional elements that I couldn’t in a book whose pages must ultimately lie flat (the scanner's fine with not closing all the way). Who knows? Maybe one day, when blogs are obsolete, I can come full circle and take on the challenge of translating this blog's content into a physical book. How's that for completion?

*I’ve only made a couple altered books since I’ve been on the West Coast: Tarpaulin Kingdom and The Witch, a Lemondrop Wedged Firmly In Her Cheek, Begins Her Evening Prayers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

History of the Book.2

Continued from History of the Book.1

After that bleakest of Bellingham winters, I moved to New Orleans, into a Mid-City warehouse where all the rooms were only half built. On more than one level, I was entering a place about which I knew very little. That’s the thing about picking up someone else’s old book, right? Sometimes there is marginalia, which gives you a peek at the lens through which past owners have read it. Other times, a book has been so cared for, you’d swear it had never been opened. Either way, there’s a deliberate ignorance in choosing to destroy a book—even with the intention of giving it new life.

The few windows in the warehouse were new, recently installed by my roommates, my friends. I even put one in myself—that soul-sucking sound of the Sawzall, then the light coming in, at last—and there were vines on the other side, stretching out across the corrugated roof next door. Beyond that, graveyards, which sprawled in almost every direction.

There seemed to be a few ghosts in this building, too, which for myself, mostly manifested themselves in dreams: My dad and I, putty knives in hand, urgently trying to repair a warehouse wall. Inside the wall, there were ghosts, increasing in sinister pressure, always on the verge of leaking outwhich they did, at last, with the sound of a hellish scream. When they escaped, it meant certain deathone of the few times a dream allowed me to die.

These are the sorts of things that happen, according to Wikipedia, when you alter a book: “cuts, tears, glues, burns, folds, paints, adds to, collages, re-binds, gold-leafs, creates pop-ups, drills, bolts, and/or beribbons …” And this, I think, is what makes it such an appealing art for for me: its interdimensionality. On one level, a book (and when I say book, I mean the traditional non-e sense) strives to lay flat; it purports to be there to display a readable page. Yet the pages refuse to stay constrained to the second dimension: they demand to be touched, to be lifted and turned, to rise toward the reader and be sculptural, to inhabit an infinite number of angles before again pretending to be flat. And with altered books, all those add-to's and cuts only complicate the interdimensional confusion.

In one of those warehouse walls I built—this is in waking life now—I installed dioramas, which merged scenes of caveman with roses and chunks of polished glass I’d found on the beaches of Bellingham Bay. Remember: to obtain those pictures of cavemen was barbaric. New Orleans, too, had a good source of cheap books: a large Thrift City only blocks from my new home. Soon, we at the warehouse began hosting art shows, which gave me deadlines, which inspired me to create (re-create?) more books. One of those art shows, parasite-themed, inspired Tiny Monuments (They start eating you long before you're dead). I still have Tiny Monuments today thanks to Michelle Embree, who talks about its rescue over at her blog.

Stories change. Sometimes they merge and sometimes they haunt one another. They’re taken apart and re-ordered. New Orleans was where I first finally came out of the closet, a moment that had been building up for way too long. Once that ghost was released, I tried to ride with it, and was manic about it in the shyest sort of way: I wrote all the necessary people, and told the ones who I most hoped would tell everyone else. Then returned to the West Coast for what I thought was a summer trip. While I was there, though, my roommates all fled as well, and the warehouse was evicted and then looted. This was all several years before Katrina, so who knows what’s happened since, with those less than watertight windows, and those fragile dioramas which probably only weakened the walls. I have not been back to where that warehouse stood; I guess my ignorance has remained deliberate. 

Click here for Part 3!

Friday, February 17, 2012

History of the Book.1

I first started making altered books during a cold, gray winter in Bellingham. The town of Bellingham is as northwest as you can get without stepping into Canada, so there you go: imagine the bleakness. My room was a sublet and filled with objects that weren’t my own. There was a shelf with some decorative bones, and one day I found a femur in my bed. Soon after, my pillow vanished for several days before reappearing. I thought maybe I had a poltergeist. Also, though, I was smoking a lot of weed.

I’d found a wallet in a grocery store parking lot and quickly spent the ten-dollar bill inside it. I then failed to return the wallet, and it sat in that room for way too long. I looked at it sometimes, peripherally, and wondered if it was cursed. It held pictures of its owner, who was ex-military, posing with muscles flexed. He looked scary, and grew more so the longer I waited. The wallet also held a membership card to the food co-op, which I later realized was my ticket out of showing up at his front door. When I handed it to the hippies at the co-op’s counter, they made some magical motions with their hands and wished me good karma.

Still, there was something sinister beyond that room: the whole house was decorated a bit like The Shining. The roommates were each on their own very different trip: The eerily silent hardcore dude. The good-natured Ren-fairer who made chain mail.  The aspiring 1950s hostess who had taken riot-grrrl irony way to seriously. Each of these people had an unreadable interior. Each of them deserves a much longer character study that would fast veer into fiction. Each could have easily been fucking with me.

Anyway, this was the setting where I first started taking books apart and putting them back together. It’s funny, now that I write it out like this, because it seems like such a reflection of my surroundings at that point. Things were showing up where they didn’t belong. Problems were being transmuted rather than solved. And on some level, the whole situation echoed what was going on in my head. I was still in the closet then, and I think some obscure agent of my brain must have been devising an escape plan. Experimenting with new narratives—pieced together from old ones—seems now like an apt area in which to be working.

On a more practical level, materials were abundant. There were bottomless free boxes outside the public library and Michael’s Books. Aladdin’s Antiques had old photographs for a nickel (this was back before such things became an art-student commodity). I couldn’t help but take these treasures home: well-worn paperback covers with scenes of interplanetary colonization; fortuitous doubles of women holding cats; dreamlike photos of laser projections on a canyon wall. Themes would arise in the midst of digging, then morph or develop as I spread my finds out on that weird little room’s shag carpet. One of the books I made, I named Recipes: Incubus, Succubus, Poltergeist.* 

I’m trying to remember now how I came to feel like I knew what I was doing. My bindings were simplistic and intuitive, mostly figured out from having learned to sew patches onto things. The collage elements I’d absorbed, I think, from album art, as well as from exchanging mail art and from reading and making zines. The biggest specific influence I can remember is my friend, Stephanie Pierce, who I’d spent the previous year palling around with in Asheville, North Carolina. When she’d showed me the books she made out of trash, something clicked.

That’s why it’s weird, now, when I look at the Wikipedia page for altered books: a disproportionate number of the artists listed there are from Washington state. So maybe the geist I was being haunted by wasn’t so much polter as zeit. This, I should remind you, was a time before the Internet, and I was oblivious. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic, though, as I sit here, a glassy-eyed Internet addict. Like I had access to something more unquantifiable then. Was this chance? I think it was. Chance is when one image just happens to lay on another. Thank god for those last oblivious days of chance.

Click here for Part 2!

*An unconsciously perfect title. The incubi, now that I think of it, were making themselves just as known as the poltergeist.  My friend, who I had an unacknowledged crush on, spent the night on the living room couch and complained of experiencing sleep paralysis—the ghost that sits on your chest. But in my memory now, I clearly had the same experience myself. I was sleeping on the couch (But why? Was I trying to escape the ghost in my room?), and awoke feeling terrified and unable to move. What makes this memory so vivid, though, is that it’s connected to another one: hearing the eerily silent hardcore dude come home drunk and talk more than I’d ever thought possible. He and his friend laughed as they took some meat out of the freezer and tried to cook it. I wonder now: is this something I really experienced? I’ve never had sleep paralysis anywhere else—although my friend, who was asthmatic, had. There is an image I used in Recipes: Incubus, Succubus, Poltergeist, that when I think of it now, was a signpost on my way out of the closet: a naked man asleep, his cock and balls on display. I don’t remember now where I found this picture, but there was power in it—a pre-Internet kind of power, right? I had barely missed the Mukilteo Fairies when I moved to Bellingham. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

V-Day Art Show at Down at Lulu's!

A  Valentines-themed group art show opens tonight at Down at Lulu's, and here's a detail from my contribution: a valentine featuring Barbara Stanwyck in the iconic compact reconnaissance scene from The Lady Eve. I like that it kind of looks like a Hallmark cardlike one of those wink-wink ones for women to give their office friends? The show features a lot of exciting artists and should be up for the month, but come get in on some free food and drinks tonight from 7-10 pm. Down at Lulu's is a hair salon/vintage store located at 6603 Telegraph Ave in Oakland. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Letter from Pedestrianica.4

Everyone knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B is by car. This letter should really be a diagram, but for now, I’m just going to write my way into it.

Because this letter is not a straight line. But then it’s not a motorist, either—we’re in Pedestrianica, aren’t we? We’re going to do some meandering. Still, this will be quick, I promise: when walking, we try to keep our sights set, no matter how obscured, on Point B.

To accommodate cars, cities become a convoluted tyranny of angles. Think of all those turns you must make, softened though they may be by the guiding voice of the Garmin: rarely do they stray from 90 degrees. Your route, when mapped, looks like a series of steps:


Ridiculous, you say, and you’re right, and you list off a dozen exceptions: Streets that bleed into one another, that merge or veer in an ordinal direction. Scenic drives that follow the curves of rivers or bluffs. Corners with their elbows lopped off to allow for smoother turns (and longer crosswalks).

There’s a 6-way intersection near my house that I swear was designed to kill crackheads. There’s a liquor store there, and a lot of marginalized foot traffic, and though there does seem to be some sort of traffic light somewhere, we pedestrians still have to look in a lot of different directions to make sure no cars are careening towards us. This intersection frees the motorist from that 90-degree tyranny: you can turn up the diagonal street without even tapping the brake. That’s why you’re driving, right? Momentum.

Another interesting way to cut corners is the gas station parking lot. Here, if you are a motorist, if you’re waiting in line to make a right-hand turn, you can use this corner lot as a kind of warp zone, speed right on through and knock a couple minutes off your commute. If you have a more immediate goal in mind, if you need to suckle for a minute at petroleum’s pricey teat, you use this space to engage in a series of awkward maneuvers. You back up, then inch forward, then back up, then inch forward, then erratically lap the lot on your way to a better pump.

Your range of motion—best seen in spaces like these—while forceful, has its limit. 

As pedestrians, we too use this space to cut corners, but warily, as we never know from what direction you might veer. Taking the long way around can be just as tricky: the skin between gas station and street is manically permeable, a series of ins and outs that void the safety of the sidewalk, and that never cease.

Because beneath the apparent order of the right angle looms a chaos, a violent unpredictability that city planning fails to tame. Cars, by nature—even the sleekest—are clunky, are stilted and averse to curves. Paradoxically, though, they are sprawling in the amount of physical and mental space they take up.   

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dolly Sneak Peek

Here's a panel from a comic about Dolly Parton I'm working on with Janelle Hessig for the third issue of Rob Kirby's THREE. THREE, which is due out in June, features an all-star cast: Ed Luce, Carrie McNinch, Jennifer Camper, Ivan Velez, Jr., Howard Cruse, Diane DiMassa, Ellen Forney, Joan Hilty, and of course, the unstoppable Rob Kirby. For another view of Dolly, click here.